On assuming the absolute worst of women (and the people who care for them) by default

16 Jul 2015 01:46 am
Posted by: Donna

female symbolLiar!

To his credit, AZ Republic columnist Doug MacEachern examined some of the available evidence of recent the “OMG PLANNED PARENTHOOD IS SELLING BABY PARTS!!” allegation, found it wanting, and said so on Wednesday morning.

But he wasn’t letting us off that easily. Doug did what many conservative pundits are doing, where he went with the strategy of “okay, it’s not selling but look how ghoulish the process to get this tissue is!” to argue that people should still take this very, very seriously and feel very, very sad about it. He pressed the point by citing a tweet of mine and of Amanda Marcotte mocking the “shocking hidden video!” kerfluffle.

This strategy can be pretty effective because the process sounds gross and people are squeamish about medical procedures (most people would faint if they had to draw blood), unlike medical professionals who tend to develop a hardened attitude and often engage in casual black humor. But what if you leave the ick factor aside and considered who it is who might want to donate fetal tissue voluntarily? A picture could emerge of a woman who had a wanted pregnancy and who opted for termination upon learning in about the 5th month (which is the earliest many conditions can be detected) that her fetus had conditions that were incompatible with life outside the womb. She may decide that donating the fetal tissue is a way to salvage the horrible situation since maybe a researcher could learn about why the fetus’ development went awry and other prospective parents could benefit from the knowledge in the future.

If you think about it unfolding as I described (and why would such a scenario be unreasonable?) then it’s easy to see why the abortion doctor would do the procedure in a way that would best preserve the organs in their complete state. Why were so many people, including many who could not be described as anti-abortion zealots, so willing to leap to the least charitable assumption about what Planned Parenthood and their patients were doing with fetal tissue (selling baby parts! for money!) and not the more benign possibility that I just laid out? Wouldn’t my hypothetical be more plausible than simply assuming it’s done to “harvest baby parts!” out of a callous profit motive, as the anti-choicers would have you believe?

Obviously this in large part because it is about abortion and anti-abortion advocates have done a masterful job sowing misinformation and confusion about the subject. They are also very opposed to the idea of women having non-procreative sex, hence their general opposition to preventative measures like contraception access and sex ed. But they haven’t gotten as far as they have in a cultural vacuum. As I’ve said many times before, anti-choicers operate in a larger culture that is profoundly distrustful and contemptuous of women (and yes, women are often complicit in that, intentionally or not).

To illustrate: About a year and a half ago I was at a NARAL event – I repeat, a NARAL event – and was chatting with a very nice and intelligent woman about anti-choice legislation that was happening in Arizona when, without warning, she hit me with, “But I’m just not sure about the ones done later in the pregnancy.” It turned out that she and her wife were the parents of an infant who had been born prematurely and saved by intensive neonatal care. She said the experience made her feel ambivalent and also something along the lines of “women shouldn’t wait so long to do it.”

I’ll reiterate that this was a very nice and intelligent woman clearly not speaking from a place of malice at all and it’s understandable that her and her wife’s experience would color her opinion. But why did she (a woman at a freaking NARAL event!) go straight to what seemed to be the very worst assumption about women who seek abortions after the first trimester? Again, a lot can be laid at the feet of anti-choicers and their relentless insistence that such abortions are only done for callous and frivolous reasons but, again, their claims still resonate with the general public for reasons that go beyond that.

If this were just about people’s uncharitable conclusions about women (other women, bad women!) that they kibitzed among themselves, it would be one thing. But it’s not. It’s about the laws that are passed based on anti-choice zealotry and greeted with a yawn by the public due to those same uncharitable conclusions about women. I don’t have time to give an intricate explanation to every random person I meet at a party that her squeamishness about fifth month abortions might contribute to her wife possibly dying from pregnancy complications because the doctor dares not perform the termination without a second doctor’s opinion and hospital legal department approval because the law was written and/or enforced assuming the absolute worst about women and those who care for them.

I shouldn’t have to. People should just stop assuming the worst of women and their health care providers.

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